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TowerJazz Lends Helping Hand to Automotive Chip Makers

For years, automotive chipmakers like Infineon and Renesas have not only devised chips but also manufactured them themselves. But now foundries are trying to flip the script.

TowerJazz announced new options for manufacturing SiGe, RF CMOS, and RF SOI chips for cars, which have strict reliability and quality needs. The specialty purveyor is aiming to tap into the growing market for radar sensors that cover blind spots and wireless chips that chat with nearby cars about their location.

"The specific version of these technologies used for automotive have been optimized both in performance and to meet the high reliability and quality requirements of the automotive market,” said Marco Racanelli, senior vice president of the RF and high performance analog business at TowerJazz, which already mints power management chips for electric cars.

That strategy has a strong economic basis. Sales of advanced driver-assistance systems for safety applications could rise to 302 million in 2022, up from 115 million in 2016, according to IHS Markit. These units require cameras, lidar, radar, and other chips that wirelessly share vehicle position and speed.

TowerJazz's changes are evident in its SiGe platform, which has been customized to handle more transistor options, metallization schemes, and passives like capacitors and inductors. That lets customers adjust for speed and noise to optimize radar transmit and receive functions. The firm also plans to make switches and other chips for wireless front ends that help with vehicle-to-everything communications – also known as V2X.

On Monday, the foundry said that the Japanese parts supplier Denso had signed onto its SiGe technology. With it, Denso devised a 24-gigahertz radar chip that aids collision warning systems while drivers change lanes or reverse. Another TowerJazz process can produce longer-range radar chips that operate from 76 to 81 GHz.

Denso said that it chose TowerJazz because its process could squeeze more functions on a single chip. The final product combined SiGe transistors, which transmit and receive radar signals, with CMOS circuits that control the chip’s digital functions. The rear-and-side radar sensor is built into the bumper of the 2018 Toyota Camry.

“The foundry model in automotive is becoming more accepted,” said Amol Kalburge, senior director of strategic marketing, in an email. “Our foundry platform solution levels the playing field and enables fabless and fab-light companies to bring multiple innovative products to market rapidly.”

For TowerJazz, the circumstances could rally business through the end of its first decade. Founded in 2008, the Migdal Haemek, Israel-based firm recently reported second quarter sales of $345 million, up from $305 million in same span last year. Profit was $50 million, up 30% from last year’s second quarter.

TowerJazz was formed following the merger of Tower Semiconductor, based in Israel, and Jazz Semiconductor, based in Newport Beach, Calif. The foundry, which runs two factories in Israel and two in the United States, partnered with Panasonic in 2014 to give customers access to three additional fabs in Japan.

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